This is Elizabeth “Z” Berg. Her father is producer Tony Berg (Squeeze, Aimee Mann, Public Image Ltd.) She is very talented, and very pretty.
She fronted a band called The Like, which were a cool version of Wilson Phillips. Bass player Charlotte is the daughter of producer Mitchell Froom. Drummer Tennessee is the daughter of the Attractions’ drummer Pete Thomas. They wrote a song called “He’s Not a Boy,” which was produced by Mark Ronson. It should have been huge.
But it wasn’t.
This is Alex Greenwald. He looks like a real-life, grown-up Hiro from “Big Hero 6.”
He was in Phantom Planet, a band whose closest thing to a hit is when a TV show used one of their songs as its theme (“California,” by “The O.C.”). Their drummer was actor Jason Schwartzman. All the pieces were in place for them to be a really big deal.
But they weren’t.
This is Jason Boesel. He looks like…Jason Boesel.
He was in Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes. Between the two of those bands, he has enough indie hipster street cred to demand that a street in Austin be named after him. Unfortunately for him, the stock markets have yet to establish an exchange rate between indie credibility and any actual currency in circulation.
Following their departures from, or the dissolutions of, their respective bands, these three, along with karaoke pals Michael Runion and Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine (!), formed a band called JJAMZ (pronounced ‘juh-jams,’ and if you look at all of their first names, you’ll see where the band name comes from), which they have rebranded Phases following the departure of Valentine. Phases’ debut, For Life, is the sound of four people who are sick to fucking death of not making any money, something that was obviously not a concern for the Maroon 5 guy. After spending over a decade each making the music that their hearts demanded, they have made a record that stands a good chance to actually shift some units, without any of the cynicism that one might associate with such a move. This is unapologetic, sky-high synth pop of the finest order.
It seems an odd stylistic direction, considering how many of the band’s members slung guitars in past lives, but the JJAMZ album hinted at this as a possibility, and can you blame them for going for the brass ring at this point in their lives? These songs are the perfect compromise, playing by modern-day radio rules while maintaining their artistic integrity at the same time. Check out first single “I’m in Love with My Life.”
That is a catchy song (and the video had to be one complicated production), and For Life is loaded with songs just as good or better. “Silhouette” and “Betty Blue” are clear singles in waiting, the latter of which sporting a vocal bit that will suck in Lionel Richie fans, because they are clearly cribbing “All Night Long.” They expertly place the ballad “Spark” at Track 4 (“I’m in Love with My Life” is #3), then raise the roof with “Cooler,” which will make fans of Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” squeal with glee.
The album’s biggest drawback is that it sounds like they had maybe two keyboards and one drum machine to make the entire album. When one listens to the number of keyboard and drum tracks that CHVRCHES dropped on their first two albums, Phases would have benefited greatly from diversifying the instrumentation. The tunes are strong, but the sameness in sound undermines them towards the end.
With the Warner Bros. marketing machine behind them, though, For Life stands a very good chance at finally vaulting Berg, Greenwald, Boeser, and Runion to the next level. And they didn’t even have to sell their souls to do it. Here’s hoping that they finally get their happy ending.